Withdrawing from Afghanistan wins wide support from the public, but despite support for his plan opposition to Obama's handling is high
The President’s announcement last week of U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan – which will bring troops levels below 10,000 by the end of the year and leave no combat troops there after 2016 – gets support from the public in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, though Americans disapprove of Barack Obama’s overall handling of both Afghanistan and overall foreign policy.
There is some support for the withdrawal plan even from the President’s fiercest critics. Nearly a third of Republicans support the plan (although somewhat more Republicans oppose it). Conservatives are narrowly in support.
The public strongly supported U.S. involvement in Afghanistan 13 years ago after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when troops were first sent to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But now more than four in ten describe that action as a mistake.
Republicans, however, disagree.
Americans aren’t sure that Afghan civilians are any better off today than they were before the United States sent troops to the country. Just as many say Afghans are not better of as say they are; this mixed perception is one shared by both Democrats and Republicans.
America has experienced an economic crisis since the war in Afghanistan began – and there is a widespread belief (also shared by both Democrats and Republicans) than Americans are not better off than they were when the war in Afghanistan began.
As the fighting in Afghanistan continues, Americans appear to have become less and less attentive to it – and today relatively few see it as an issue of great importance to them. Only 24% call Afghanistan a very important issue for them – a figure dwarfed by the numbers who think issues like the economy (cited as very important by 73%) and terrorism (cited by 47%) are very important.
Despite their support for the President’s withdrawal plan, Americans are more likely to disapprove than approve of his handling of Afghanistan – a feeling that is not much different from what they have been saying for months. And they are dubious – even after his announcement – that he has a clear plan for U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
One in four Democrats are dubious the President has a plan for Afghanistan.
Americans are critical of the President’s performance when it comes to foreign policy in general. Only a third approve; nearly half do not. Americans are also dubious the President has a clear plan for U.S. foreign policy.
(NOTE: The poll was completed before the announcement of the release of U.S. soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity, and the subsequent questions surrounding the release agreement and Bergdahl’s original capture.)
Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.